Learning something new was fun. I certainly developed a new appreciation for photography skills and off-the-wall fish tales.
The newspaper headline announced, “Photograph Your Forest – Summer Contest.” With so much time spent indoors and social distancing this spring, I read the rest of the article with interest: “Capture spectacular views, special moments and hidden gems.” The contest was judged by the Hoosier National Forest rangers. I printed out the listing of the forest destinations and circled the ones nearby.
Only three things were holding me back from entering the contest. I definitely was not a photographer, but I was retired and wanted to learn something new. I did not own a camera, but I just purchased an iPad. I was not the kind that wandered around the forest, but my husband Tim and I lived near much of the 203,000 acres of Indiana public land. The deadline was next month and, if I wanted to get a winning summer photo, I needed a sunny forecast. I showed the article to Tim and said, “We need to be on alert for a pleasant summer day.”
Tim said, “And we will be doing what and going where?” I patiently pointed out that I (we) would be traveling to a lake about an hour away to take photos for the contest.
He said, “Let’s hope this pleasant day has low temperatures and humidity.”
“Of course, this will be fun,” I said. I charged up my iPad so that at a moment’s notice, we would be able to hit the trail.
I honed my photography skills for the right moment. I studied endless videos demonstrating the best angles for the perfect photo. I explored settings for my iPad. Using outdoor-themed magazines, I analyzed winning photos taken by professional photographers. There were only two weeks left until the deadline. Most days were cloudy with rain off and on. Finally, after a morning shower, the afternoon promised sunny skies.
I alerted Tim about the trip, and he changed into a t-shirt and shorts. Into a bag went my iPad and directions to the lake. My old canvas shoes went into the back seat. I noticed that Tim was loading up the trunk with, of all things, a fishing pole. Before I could ask him what he was doing, he grabbed his uncle’s mounted fish off the garage wall! It had been hanging there for the past five years when his uncle had gone to live in a nursing home.
Tim said, “I’m taking Uncle Jude’s fish. I’ll stand next to the lake with my fishing pole, and you can take my picture. It’ll look like I caught this five-pound bass.” There were words I wanted to say and expressions I wanted to make that were not very wife-like.
Just two months earlier, Uncle Jude passed away in the nursing home. Due to restrictions during the pandemic, we were not able to visit with him. Tim and I were coping with his loss. If Tim wanted to celebrate with a humorous photo of his uncle’s thirty-year-old mounted fish, who was I to stifle his fun?
When we pulled into the parking lot of the lake, the sun was out with only a few dark clouds drifting away. The lake was sparkling as I walked out onto the wooden dock. I photographed the lake from that vantage point, using the surface as a mirror to reflect the sky and trees. For a perfect angle, I waded into the cattails and took a photo of the lake with a birdhouse in the foreground. Using a zoom feature, I captured two canoes in the distance. I was sure one of the photos would be the winner in the Nature Category. I was so focused, I didn’t notice where Tim went.
“I’m going to bring the fish and my pole,” Tim said from the parking lot.
I thought to myself, ok, I’ll take a few funny photos and that will be it.
Tim was grinning from ear to ear as he posed. The fishing pole was leaning against the railing of the dock. Tim had both arms around the fish, which hid the wooden mounting. After three photos, Tim viewed each one. Each photo made it seem like the fish had just been caught. From my angle, I could barely notice the layer of dust around the fish gills. Tim was pleased.
Back home, I chose one photo – a view of the lake with the birdhouse in the foreground – and submitted it in the contest. Tim said, “Why don’t you enter my photo in the Recreation Category? Then tell the history behind it, about Uncle Jude catching it and having it mounted.” I reluctantly agreed, thinking the forest rangers would have a good laugh at the photo. We called it “Off-the-Wall Catch.”
In September we received an email about the results of the contest. I was disappointed to find out that I was not the winner in the Nature Category. So much for trying to find the best lighting and angles, I thought. But the email went on regarding the photo of Tim: “Everyone loved the humor and history behind it and that it shows how memories are made by families visiting the Forest. ‘Off-the-Wall Catch’ won first place in the Recreation Category. Congratulations!” Tim was laughing. I was shaking my head in disbelief. Learning something new was fun. I certainly developed a new appreciation for photography skills and off-the-wall fish tales.